Film review - Solo: A Star Wars Story

The latest instalment in the Star Wars saga sketches the formative years of Han Solo, originally played by Harrison Ford, in comforting, broad strokes, but like Solo's famous spacecraft, it's a little lacklustre for Damon Smith

Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson and Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story

IF RYAN Johnson's tour of duty with Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi propelled George Lucas's saga into a galaxy far, far away from the old-fashioned charm of the original trilogy, Solo: A Star Wars Story slingshots at lightspeed in the opposite direction.

Scripted by Jonathan Kasdan and father Lawrence, co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, the second standalone anthology film after Rogue One sketches the formative years of the charismatic scoundrel Han Solo in comforting, broad strokes.

Ron Howard captains the hulking ship after director duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were tossed into a sarlacc pit over 'creative differences' a few months into production. Behind-the-scenes turmoil hasn't manifested noticeably on screen.

Howard's gung-ho romp of double-crossing criminals is clinical, bookmarked by impressively staged set-pieces laden with pyrotechnics and special effects.

Solo's name is emboldened in the title but he's the least interesting element and Alden Ehrenreich's performance falls short of the smouldering, rascally delights of Harrison Ford.

Instead, London-born actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator of award-winning comedy Fleabag, shines brightest through the digitally rendered gloom as a rebellious droid, who is hard-wired to demand equal rights for her mechanised kin.

A nifty prologue set on the ship building planet Corellia illustrates the doomed romance of Han (Ehrenreich) and sweetheart Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke).

Three years later, after a cute meeting with Wookiee sidekick Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Han seeks a route back to Corellia by hijacking a consignment of crystal fuel coaxium with thief-for-hire Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his accomplices Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio (voiced by Jon Favreau).

The heist doesn't unfold as planned and the deflated reprobates become indebted to Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), leader of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate.

Thus, Han and Beckett reluctantly undertake a more dangerous assignment: to steal canisters of unrefined coaxium from Kessel.

To accomplish this seemingly impossible feat, the thieves must wrest the Millennium Falcon from smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his deadpan droid L3-37 (Waller-Bridge).

Solo: A Star Wars Story looks and feels like a throwback to the original canon replete with visual nods to Han's lucky dice and the Dejarik holochess table.

The series' mythology, which stretches decades into the future after this film concludes, severely limits the number of characters who can sustain serious injury.

Consequently, there's scant dramatic tension despite the efforts of composer John Powell to riff noisily on John Williams's recognisable main theme.

A lean script provides a smattering of one-liners to underscore Han and Chewie's jocular banter and Glover has fun with his flirtatious chancer, who always deals himself a winning hand.

"I've got a good feeling about this," grins Han as he sits in the captain's chair for the first time, a neat reversal of Luke Skywalker's famous line in Episode IV: A New Hope.

I harboured similar feelings of quiet optimism for Howard's picture but like the mighty Millennium Falcon, when she emerges from the Kessel run, my expectations were badly dented.

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (12A, 135 mins) Sci-Fi/Action/Adventure/Romance. Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Joonas Suotamo, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton and the voice of Jon Favreau. Director: Ron Howard

RATING: 7/10

Released: May 24 (UK & Ireland)

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